If there is to be a global transition from combustion-engined to electrically powered cars, it has not thus far proved quick, smooth or particularly profitable for the car makers leading the field - so can the launch of the Renault Zoe change that?

The most viable EV to have undergone the Autocar road test so far is unquestionably the Nissan Leaf, yet it has proven a tough sell – limited not only by the inherent range dilemma, but also by an initially high asking price that pigeonholed it as an early-adopter extravagance rather than a truly mass-market car. 

Renault's involvement in EVs is now extensive. Underwritten by the billion-pound investment made by the Renault-Nissan Alliance in an EV programme, the brand publicly kicked off its ZE (Zero Emissions) programme with a series of concepts that included previews of the Zoe the Twizy. 

The commercial Kangoo ZE and saloon-shaped Fluence ZE entered production first, in 2011. The Fluence faltered due to the financial collapse of its battery swapping network, but the Kangoo was named Van of the Year in 2012.

With the Renault Zoe, the French half of the Renault-Nissan Alliance is attempting to break through. Its car, conceived as electric from the outset rather than adapted from a combustion-engined model, is supermini-sized.

It has broadly similar range and performance to the Leaf but, like most of Renault’s EVs thus far, will be part-sold and part-leased via a battery rental scheme. Which means that, with the continued assistance of the government’s EV grant, the Zoe can actually be had for supermini money.

So is the Renault Zoe a potential tipping point or a car still hamstrung from the outset?

Top 5 City cars

  • Volkswagen Up

    Volkswagen Up

  • Hyundai i10
    The Hyundai i10 is offered with either a 1.0-litre petrol engine or a 1.2-litre petrol engine

    Hyundai i10

  • Suzuki Celerio
    The Celerio is an all-new city car from Suzuki

    Suzuki Celerio

  • Fiat Panda
    Panda’s 4 star EuroNCAP crash score falls short of some rivals

    Fiat Panda

  • Vauxhall Viva
    Vauxhall Viva 1.0 SE is priced from £7995

    Vauxhall Viva


First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • BMW M240i
    First Drive
    26 October 2016
    More power, more speed, more noise: BMW's revamped and renamed performance coupé is sweeter than ever
  • Volkswagen Up High 1.0 TSI
    First Drive
    26 October 2016
    A new turbocharged three-pot injects some fun into VW's slick city car and makes it a more rounded package
  • 2017 Vauxhall Insignia prototype first drive
    First Drive
    25 October 2016
    We review the next-generation Vauxhall Insignia and find that, while still disguised and giving little away about its appearance, it's encouragingly good to drive
  • 2016 Ford Kuga ST-Line 1.5 Ecoboost 182
    First Drive
    25 October 2016
    The Kuga ST-Line is enjoyable to drive, but this version of the 1.5-litre Ecoboost engine doesn't suit Ford's SUV
  • Car review
    21 October 2016
    Can Seat’s first SUV impress, even with the heavy burden of expectation?